Columba and my calling.

A fierce dove racing in a fiercer gale

A fierce dove racing in a fiercer gale

June the 9th is Saint Columba’s day, a saint who has a special place for me, as somehow, he feels bound up in my own journey to Faith. When I was 19, and moving from a formerly thorough atheism, towards a greater spiritual openness, but by no means yet a Christian, I went for a long slow walk round Ireland. I went without a map because the Zen practice in which I was interested at the time, and on which I still draw in prayer, was always emphasizing ‘The map is not the reality”! You must utterly and absolutely be in the place you’re in, and let that place be what it is and teach what it has to teach without any overlay from your maps and preconceptions. So I took that literally and walked round Ireland without  a map, just keeping the sea on my left! One evening, St. John’s Eve it was, right at the end of my journey, I came round a headland at sunset into a beautiful little bay and inlet on the west coast in Donegal, just as the fires were being lit around the headlands for St. Johns Eve, and there was drinking and fiddle playing and dancing round the fires that evening. And I asked where I was, and they said Glencolmcille, and I felt a sudden quickening and sense of connection, as though a memory stirred. And they asked me my name and I said ‘Malcolm’, and they said, ‘Ah that is why you have come, because he has called you’, and I said ‘who?’ and they said ‘Colm has called you, Malcolm, for this is the place he fought his battle and gathered his disciples and from here he left for the white martyrdom and Scotland. And they told me the story of St. Columba, and the battle he had fought, of his repentance, his self-imposed exile, his journey with twelve disciples from this glen to Scotland where he founded the abbey of Iona from whence Scotland and much of the north of England was converted. ‘Of course he is calling you here’, they said, ‘for your name, in Gaelic means servant of Columba. And as they spoke I remembered at last, right back into my childhood, how I had been told stories about this saint, and how I was named for him, and how my grandmother had published poems about him and sung her lullaby for the infant Columba over me as a child. I wandered down to the shore whence he had set sail and felt how thin the veil was, how something of heaven, whatever heaven might be, seemed to glimmer through the sky and the sea itself in this place. And I thought: ‘I’m not a Christian, and I don’t see how I could ever become one, but if I do ever become one, I’ll remember Columba and I’ll go to Iona and thank him’. Which I did, and I did. Now here’s my sonnet for the saint. This poem is now collected in my book The Singing Bowl from Canterbury Press which you can get on amazon, or better still, order from your local bookshop! If you are in Canada you can get it direct from the excellent Steve Bell’s online store Here


 You called me and I came to Colmcille

To learn at last the meaning of my name

Though you yourself were called, and not the caller,

He called through you and when He called I came,

Came to the edge at last, in Donegal,

Where bonfires burned and music lit the flame

As from the shore I glimpsed that ragged sail

The Spirit filled to drive you from your  home,

A fierce dove racing in a fiercer gale,

A swift wing flashing between sea and sky.

And with that glimpse I knew that I  would fly

And find you out and serve you for a season,

My heaven hidden like your native isle,

Though somehow glimmering on each horizon.

Glencolmcille, scene of a small epiphany

Glencolmcille, scene of a small epiphany


Filed under christianity, imagination

25 responses to “Columba and my calling.

  1. matthia langone

    this is so beautiful and so real, how great you shared this. thank you Ciao matthia Date: Mon, 9 Jun 2014 12:07:02 +0000 To:

  2. Lovely poem, and a great story to go with it.

  3. What a lovely story! Thank you.

  4. My words exactly! What a lovely story! How mystical…I hope we all listen to what’s calling us today and follow without our noses in a map…or an iPhone app! Blessings to you!

  5. Caroline Jones

    Thank you Malcolm for your great posts and for sharing your poems with me. I don’t expect you will remember me but I came to St Edwards during the summer time whilst I was working at Corpus for the last three years. I also went along to the Gothic Eucharist’s a couple of times, and to Friday meditative prayer, all of which was so memorable. I was though greatly saddened to hear about the troubles facing Fraser. Anyway, I was licensed as a Reader/Lay Minister by Bishop Wyn in St David’s cathedral last October and am really enjoying my ministry so far. I am doing the dip Theo through The Church in Wales and as prospective ordinands we get the Church Times free. I had such a nice surprise to see you on the front cover this week and have been showing you off to everyone I know here in Carmarthenshire! I used your sonnet for Pentecost at the opening of a Saturday school for ministry skills last Saturday (and plugged your book), and also used it to end my sermon at Evensong last night, and it was much praised, so thank you for the resource it’s so nice to have something so fresh and creative in amongst all the other things we do and say.

    With very best wishes,

    Caroline (Dr C Jones)

  6. Lainie Allen

    Thank you for this moving sonnet, Mal-Colm.

    My name is Lainie, and I live in the States, but have both Irish and Scottish roots. St Columba has been a powerful mentor for me in the past 5 years when I first read about him and visited Iona. My husband and I have been on a similar path as Columba for many years … pilgrims called to minister away from our “homeland” of sorts.

    2 years ago I took a longer pilgrimage to Iona through an immersion class at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX. Again, Columba became my teacher. This sonnet speaks a depth to my heart.

    Thankful for your gifts and willingness to share, Lainie

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks for letting me know Lanie it’s always good to know when a poem has made a deep connection like this. Every Blessing

  7. This still gives me chills. With both the story and the poem, you give a glimpse into that profound grace given when He calls us to understand the meaning of our name. Thank you.

  8. Paul Shakeshaft

    Thank you for sharing your story. I feel a special connexion to Columba, too; he is my patron saint.

  9. Pingback: so great a cloud :: st columba | one deep drawer

  10. It never fails to amaze and delight me the myriad ways God calls people to himself and to his work!

  11. alma brayden

    Thank you for your amazing story followed by a beautiful poem. Glencolumkille is a very special, spiritual place.

  12. Thank you so much for sharing this. Beautiful story and poem!

  13. Stephen

    Lovely story Malcolm. I raised my children in Glencolmcille and still relish the thought of going back with them one day to meet old friends.

  14. Stephen

    Yes Malcolm, but if only we could have eaten scenery! Anyway away for 7 years and heading back soon: this time to St Mungo territory 🙂

    • malcolmguite

      Ah. My Grandmother Jeanetta Murray Published a cycle of poems called the Legendary of St Mungo which includes a beautiful account of the meeting of Columba and Mungo!

  15. Stephen

    Malcolm is it possible to post a snippet of this meeting?

  16. Malcolm, I was introduced to you by my friend Kendall Ruth (and I’m headed to KindlingsFest!).

    This struck a heart-chord, perhaps less about listening to a calling, and more about my life-long search for the roots/origin of my first name. But perhaps I’m just not listening to my calling… 🙂

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